Things have still been sparse over the last couple of months, but it has not been a complete wash out.
I went up to Crawley for our quarterly games day and I had as good a time as ever:
- Il Principe – This strongly reminded me of Louis XIV. Both are complicated and feel like pure victory point races. Chris Farrell gets it spot on in his review. At least it is short. 4/10.
- Ave Caesar – This is as simple and fun as ever. It is good news it is being reprinted. 7/10.
- Mare Nostrum – Mythology Expansion – I enjoyed this way more than I expected. Last time I played Mare Nostrum the game dragged and I gave it a rating of 4/10. The expansion largely fixes the problem we ran into, by making trading easier, and it also adds a lot of colour. I played the new nation, Atlantis, who are weak, and sandwiched between two powerful nations, Carthage and Rome. Luckily, the Atlanteans are very mobile – it was an interesting strategic situation. I would definitely consider picking Mare Nostrum up, but only as a combination with the expansion. It is still longish at three hours, but it is well worth it. I rate the expansion as 7/10 for now, but that could easily improve with more play. I am torn between buying this and Conquest of the Empire. It depends on which plays better with fewer people, as I have only played Mare Nostrum with six.
- Age of Steam Expansion – 1830’s Pennsylvania – I had a blast with this map. I had not played Age of Steam face to face for a long time, so I seized upon it and really concentrated. This map’s gimmick is that it is split into two halves with a vertical line of mountains. The Western end has black coal cubes, which give double income, but there are relatively few of them. The Eastern end has lots of other cubes and cities. Two of us went to the West; four to the East. I was lucky enough to get dominance of the West, scoring massively early on, but my income almost dried up in the last turn and income reduction hurt me badly. I thought I would get an easy victory, but it went down to the last two victory points. A very tight and very enjoyable victory – I am still gloating. 10/10.
- Tutenchamun – quick, abstract, minimalist, early Knizia. A line of tiles is laid out and players take turns removing them, trying to make sets – there is little else to it. It is fun enough, but there are better fillers around. At least it handles six players well. The Icehouse adaptation looks worth a try. 5/10.
Our irregular games nights have been infrequent and poorly attended, but we have managed to play:
- Timbuktu – I got this in a Math Trade. The components are good, especially the box, but this light deduction game felt bland. Maybe I was doing it wrong, but the deduction element felt too light for me, as you never have enough information to work the whole problem out. I prefer my deduction games to really blow my mind, like Sleuth. Bruno Faidutti rates this as one of his very best, but it did not work for me. He does say that it should only be played with five and we were three, so maybe it deserves another chance? 5/10.
- Shadows Over Camelot. This favourite of Bruno’s does work for us. We managed to complete Shadows Over Camelot on the second attempt, but without any traitor and with some luck. It works excellently in my group, so long as the two people who do not like cooperative games are away. Chris did a session report. 8/10.
This was the highlight of the last quarter. One of the biggest current memes in internet gaming discussion is the growth of eurogame/wargame hybrids. Some are closer to eurogames and are published by eurogame companies, e.g. Wallenstein, and some are the opposite, e.g. Freidrich. Twilight Struggle is closer to wargames, in that GMT Games are the leading wargames publisher and the card-driven format is very typical of modern wargames, but the theme is of the Cold War, a not-quite war of indirect aggression, and the core mechanic is area majorities – the quintessential eurogame mechanic. I loved it. Chris Farrell wondered who the audience is and I can now tell him that it is me. There are some production problems. For me the wrong labelling of Saudi Arabia is the most annoying, rather than the spelling mistakes, but it is not fatal and the reprint should fix it. As Alan Moon says, “Gaming simply doesn’t get any better than this.” 9/10 for now, but I will be surprised if it is not up to 10/10 the next time I play.
I stayed at our family cottage on holiday a few weeks ago and invited myself along to a session with Tony (fellonmyhead) and Tom (SouthernMan) at Hatti’s house in Swindon. Unfortunately, Tom pulled out at the last minute with a migraine, but we still managed to have a lot of fun. Everyone made me feel very welcome and I would love to go back. Tony has written up a session report. It was great to see how he subtly took photos with his camera phone.
- Canal Mania
This was everyone’s first play of Canal Mania. I have to say I enjoyed it. The obvious comparison is of a cross between Ticket to Ride and Age of Steam, without the death spiral and auctions. It reminded me in feel to Volldampf, as it shares so many mechanics with Age of Steam, while being much more forgiving. I enjoyed it, but as an Age of Steam lover, it pushes too many of the same buttons for me to bother buying it. 7/10.
- Turf Horse Racing
This ancestor of Royal Turf and Winner’s Circle is one of the best family or late night games around. A perfect closer to the evening. 7/10
I also have managed to fit in PBW games:
- 1825 Unit 1 plus Extension Kit: K1
I am most of the way through a game of this at For Whom The Web Rocks. I do not understand what is going on, but so far it does not feel like I am being destroyed. Unfortunately, the rules are difficult to mesh, as there are no diagrams and they feel disordered. It is as if they were designed to be referred to rather than learnt from.
- Roads and Boats
I have started a game of Roads and Boats PBW. The implementation is a little hard to use, but I have read the rules and understand what I need to do. It will be interesting to see how it pans out.
I have been on a couple of business trips and played a few of David Parlett’s excellent card games on the Eurostar with my colleagues:
- Cross Purposes – This worked well with two players. The mechanics make card-counting very hard, which makes for a lighter, luckier game.
- Sneak – A nice, relaxing, light bluffing game.
- Parity – This is vicious. It is the highest skill trick-taking game I have played. My opponent slaughtered me.
I have not found a single dud among David Parlett’s card games. I recommend trying these before investigating older traditional card games.
Now that I look back, maybe things have not been so bad after all, but I do sorely miss our regular game nights. It is not about the games, it is about the people.